Coping with grief during the pandemic

file photoCardinal Sean O'Malley celebrates Mass at St. Michael's Parish in North Andover late last year. The coronavirus crisis has caused the cardinal to not only ban regular Masses in churches, but also prohibit funerals in those buildings.  

The coronavirus threat has affected everyone — and for those grieving the loss of loved ones, the situation has worsened.

The limit of no more than 25 people at a gathering applies everywhere. No exception has been made for funeral services, T.J. Conte, owner of Conte Funeral Home in North Andover and Andover, pointed out.

Family members are often comforted when they see a hefty turnout at their relative's funeral.

"It helps the family get through it," said Kevin Comeau, owner of the Kevin B. Comeau Funeral Home in Haverhill.

That is not happening during the coronavirus crisis.

Many people are opting for private services for their loved ones as a way of complying with the no-crowd edict and then scheduling a celebration of the person's life for a later date — after the coronavirus threat has subsided.

"There will be many celebrations of life" once the 25-person limit has been lifted, Comeau said.

Comeau has operated his funeral home for 20 years.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, has banned funeral Masses from being celebrated in the Catholic churches of eastern Massachusetts. Even a private funeral Mass, with only immediate family permitted to attend, is forbidden.

Graveside committal services are still permitted, according to Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston. He said memorial Masses will be allowed when the public health crisis ends.

COVID-19 has also made things more difficult for people who want to pay their last respects to a friend or colleague. If the funeral is private, no one outside the family is allowed to attend.

Conte suggested an "old-fashioned" approach: Writing a letter expressing condolences to the family.

"That's a great gesture," said Conte, who comes from a family with many years of experience in his profession. He has been a licensed funeral director since 1992.

Improved technology has helped friends support the family of someone who has died. Many, if not most funeral homes have websites that allow one to leave a note of condolence. Conte, Comeau and Francis Berube, owner of the Berube-Comeau Funeral Home in Haverhill and Brookside Chapel & Funeral Home in Plaistow, offer this method.

Conte said his funeral homes offer live streaming of a funeral if a family requests it.

Sending cards and flowers to a person's survivors also help grieving families, Comeau said. Cooking a meal and bringing it to a family is another way of helping those who have suffered a loss, the funeral directors said.

Berube pointed out that numerous survivors request that charitable donations be made in memory of someone who has died. Family members appreciate such acts of kindness, said Berube, who has been a licensed funeral director since 1976.

"Families still need support," he said.

Berube said "people seem to be understanding" of the need to obey the 25-person limit. Conte and Comeau said they have found that to be the case at their places of business.

Until recently, calling hours, also known as wakes, were commonplace. Berube said his funeral homes have only private calling hours.

He discourages elderly people from attending wakes because they are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Conte and Comeau said they and their staffs make sure there are no more than 25 people in a room at the same time.

"These are extraordinary times," Berube said.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you